Sunday, October 13, 2013

You Took My Breath Away...

"Then the King will say,
I'm telling you the solemn truth:
Whenever you did one of these things
To someone overlooked or ignored,
That was Me - you did it to Me."
Matthew 25:40

Yesterday, you stopped me in my tracks.  I was driving down the street, in a hurry to get where I was going, as always, and there you were.  You didn't know I was watching you.  You were just doing what comes naturally to you.  There you were, stepping out without blinking an eye onto a street filled with speeding drivers who were too self-absorbed to acknowledge the presence of anyone else in the world at that moment.  After all, we had places to go, people to see! An onlooker, watching the scene unfold, might have mistaken the drivers for clones of The White Rabbit, straight out of Alice in Wonderland, murmuring to ourselves, "I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. No time to say, hello, goodbye, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!" Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll

You, though, you were something altogether different. You didn't seem to even notice any of us.  You were focused like a laser beam on the object of your attention, the tiny, broken old woman you were running to help.  It was a study in contrasts  You, so young and agile, leaping like a buck across the street to make it to her side in seconds, as if the world depended on it.  She, so frail in frame, she was barely able to lift her head to see you running to her side.  She was inching her way across the street, on legs that were like twigs bent so low they seemed about to break.  The cane she leaned on shook in her trembling hands.  She was scared.  You could see it on her face, wrinkled from brow to chin.  She was the picture of vulnerability.  You, the picture of strength...

I was mesmerized by what I was watching.  You ran to her side, took her arm and wrapped it gently inside the fold of your own, holding her close as if you were protecting something very dear to you. Then you slowed your gait to meet hers.  You didn't rush her.  You didn't condescend to her.  You raised your head and lovingly, gently, respectfully, led her across the busy street.  You stopped the traffic with the witness of your kindness.  You were breathtaking.  Like a child of another time and another place, you gave us all a living lesson in "respect for the elderly," a lost art in our youth crazed, American culture.  You humbled me with the witness of your grace and kindness to this little old woman. 

We were on a college campus that day with students rushing to and from their classes.  You were probably one of them.  But, that day, at that precise moment in time, you became the teacher and we were all the students taking notes from a master.  You were, simply, the best...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

In the Grip of Love...

"And God will wipe away every tear..." 
Rev. 21:4

In the strangle hold of lung cancer, I met the angel of death standing by the bedside of my father many years ago. It was my first encounter with the painful goodbye ritual forced upon me against my will as I struggled to come to terms with the diagnosis of the doctors who gave my father a scant three weeks to live, if that, at the age of fifty-four.

It was in the beautiful month of July. The sun was brilliant and hot in the sky, beaming its rays upon my face when I left the hospital that first day that I knew my father would not live to see another summer. I seriously wondered how the sun could continue to shine. How could people continue to laugh at each other’s jokes? How could everyone go on with life as if nothing had happened? Didn’t they know that the world had just come to a screeching halt inside the hospital corridors where my father was dying? 

I had never experienced anything like it before.  Time stood still for me as I found myself locked in a battle to say goodbye to my father for the last time. 

As a daughter who dearly loved her father, I stayed by his bed as he seesawed back and forth between wanting to live and wanting to die – the pain was just too much for him.  My own emotions rode a roller coaster up to the heights of believing God would hear my prayers and miraculously heal my father, and then thundering down to the depths of despair. There was no mistaking the dance of death as I looked into the eyes of my father who was now begging God to let him die – the pain had overtaken him and robbed him of any instinct to survive.
It was the most painful thing I had ever gone through in my life.  But, even as I sat by my father's bedside, I realized there was a mystery unfolding around me.  Running through our lives was a Hand of Blessing touching us, caressing us, comforting us, meeting us at the intersection of life and death. 

Over the screams of pain from my father and the cries of protest coming from my own heart, I could hear the voice of God, reassuring us, as any loving Daddy would  His child: "I've got you, I've got you.  Don't be afraid.  I've got you..."  We were, mysteriously, overwhelmingly, in the grip of Love...

Gone was any pretense that life doesn’t matter.  
Suddenly, nothing mattered more.
Gone was the silly, meaningless banter of people
for whom this was just another day. 
No.  I hung on every word he said because I didn’t know
 if I would ever hear his voice again.
Gone was my ability to hide my emotions. 
They couldn’t be contained, couldn’t be hidden. 
My love for my father burst out of my heart and
ran down my face, unabashedly,
tear drop by tear drop.
Gone was my taking life for granted ever again. 
 I discovered at the death bed of my father
just how incredibly precious life is
when there are only
a few weeks,
a few days,
a few hours,
or a few minutes
left in the life of a person we love beyond words.
Gone was my childish preoccupation with my own
selfish interest. 
This was my father screaming in pain. 
This was my father in need
as I had never seen him before.
This was my father who was dying…
Those last three weeks of my father’s life, I sat by his bedside and wept, and prayed and begged God to change the outcome.  My father knew he was dying.  But, he never said he did.  When the pain subsided and he had a few moments to breath, he sat on the side of his bed and smiled the most beautiful smile at me.  He told me what he wanted for dinner the first night he would be home.  He told me we would have a wonderful celebration of his homecoming.  Then he winked at me as if to say “it’s not so bad – there’s something wonderful coming!”

When his eyes closed for the last time and his voice was silenced forever, I could still hear him promising me that. I could still see his twinkling eyes smiling at me with love, assuring me that “there’s something wonderful coming…”
I wondered as I watched him take his last breath, where was God?  Why hadn’t He answered my prayers?  Slowly, I began to realize He was the One who took my father’s hand and welcomed him home.
I was so jealous of God.  He threw the homecoming party I had wanted to throw.  He took my father’s hand when it slipped forever out of mine.  He met my father’s twinkling eyes with a twinkle of His own.  He jumped up from His throne and ran to the edge of heaven to welcome my father home.  He shouted so loud I could hear Him all the way in Chicago.  “Welcome home, son.  I’ve been waiting such a long, long time…"  How could I even think of robbing God of His joy...
I will never forget the pain of those three weeks, nor the lessons I learned at my father’s side as he fought the monster of lung cancer that stole his life prematurely. 

But, I will treasure forever the memories I have of sitting by his bedside, loving him back home.

What a privilege to have been there. 

Just to love him one more time…

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Does It Hurt...

To become real...?

Do you remember the beautiful children's tale, the Velveteen Rabitt, by Marjorie Williams?  I am a lover of children's books and this is one of my favorites.  Here's the Skin Horse advising the Rabbit one day about what it takes to become real...

"The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."

When I was a young woman and all the hairs were silky and flowing and all the skin was milky white and soft and all the parts were in place and working just the way they were designed to work, I smiled a contented smile and thought that it would always be so.  I looked with eyes of disdain on those poor creatures whose hair was falling out and bones were creaking and skin was sagging and wrinkled.  For heaven's sake, what had they done to themselves to get in that condition?!  Poor, pathetic creatures, were they!  Youth is often like that.  It cannot imagine what old age is like and it doesn't want to find out!

I wonder though, is the Skin Horse telling the truth to the Rabbit?  Are there toys that lose their hair and break their parts and live a long, long time, and never become real?  I think so.  Mostly, I have always prayed, Lord, don't let that happen to me...

I don't remember exactly when it happened.  I just know at some point along the way, I fell captive to the wooing love song of God.  He was calling me to follow after Him - to settle for nothing less, to have a love affair with a Divine Suiter.  He told me the truth.  He said I would lose a lot.  He told me it would hurt a lot.  He said I'd have to trust Him, instead of myself.  He said I would have to leave it all to belong to Him.

I wasn't so sure at first.  I weighed the pros and cons.  I so wanted my way. I was in love with the image of beauty I had envisioned for myself!  Perfection!  A beautiful dancing ballerina that everyone envied!  But then, in the middle of the dance, I heard the whisper of Love calling me again to look for something infinitely more priceless.  "Don't settle for a masquerade," He whispered.  "You were made for something wonderful!  You were made for LOVE."

Skin Horse said it would take a long, long time.  It has.  He said I might get hurt.  I have.  He said I probably wouldn't recognize myself when it finally happened.  I would look in the mirror and wonder who it was that was looking back at me.  He was right!  He said it would take a lifetime to learn to be real.  I'm still working at it... 

Yes, my hair has almost all been loved off, my eyes are almost ready to drop out, I am loose in the joints and I'm looking pretty shabby.  But, the truth is, I don't mind at all.  The One Who promised to love me, has kept me.  He has very carefully kept me...  And I don't mind that at all...

"The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness."
Jeremiah 31:3 NIV